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Mark Cavendish started the Abu Dhabi Tour with high intentions due to his ambassador position with the race, but found himself on the deck even before the end of the neutral zone. What looked like a sudden deceleration of the lead car caused several riders to fall, with Cavendish the most badly hurt.
He continued for approximately five kilometres more but, due to a blow to his head, was forced to quit the race.
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“Mark sustained a concussion and a whiplash injury after his crash today,” explained the team doctor Adrian Rotunno. “Due to the concussion, we were not willing to risk rider safety and the call was made for Mark to stop the race.”
Reports soon after the start in Madinat Zayed stated that he fell on the same shoulder that he fractured badly in last year’s Tour de France. However fears that this had been adversely affected have proven not to be the case. So too another concern.
“A serious neck injury has been excluded in hospital,” said Rotunno. “He currently has some concussive symptoms and neck pain, but is otherwise stable. We will monitor Mark’s condition closely going forward.”
Commenting on the matter, the team described his exit as ‘a massive blow.’ He recently won a stage of the Dubai Tour, his first win in almost a year, and said afterwards that taking the success showed he had put his bad crash in last year’s Tour de France behind him.
It is uncertain how long he will be out of action, or what his next race will be.
Following the end of the stage, RCS Sport confirmed that the accident was caused by the automatics of the Mercedes E300 EMC. The cars are fitted with sensors and the proximity of the riders apparently triggered the feature, causing the crash.
“They were nearby the car, and the car has those sensors that caused it to brake. And it braked,” course director Stefano Allocchio said after the stage, according to Cycling Weekly. “Unfortunately, it’s one of these things. Tonight we will talk to a mechanics to make sure they are deactivated. We don’t to risk this happening again.”
He said that the race organisers will visit Cavendish and his team to discuss the incident.
At this year’s Santos Tour Down Under drivers were warned to turn off the auto-brake feature. Race organizers added written warnings inside the cabins of many of the race vehicles in order to underline the point. Unfortunately, on this occasion that appears not to have been done and Cavendish lost out as a result.
The Briton said at the Dubai Tour that he was hoping to be in strong shape for Milan-San Remo, a race he won in 2009. His top goal this season is to try to add to his 30 stage wins in the Tour de France and, ideally, to equal or even surpass Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 stage wins.
Related: Last week the FDA approved a blood test that can detect head injuries like concussions. In this week’s CyclingTips Podcast, we dig into whether such a test could be used in cycling.